The Gorgonid mine lives up to its name. The entrance is beyond massive; you could probably walk a Warhound into it. Monstrous floodlights provide illumination, but there are several places where the mine recedes into darkness that your eye just can’t pierce.
We walked for perhaps an hour before we reached the door they’d erected to seal off the Shatters. It was a massive structure, with mighty gears the size of a Leman Russ. It took a full ten minutes for the techpriests to wind it open, and Ignace stared in awe the entire time. The gleam in his eye spoke of reverence. Finally, the entryway to the Shatters stood open.
“We’ll keep a team here”, the commissar said, “in case you return. Code is 473. The Emperor Protects.”
I turned to the team. “Barick, will you take tail?” He nodded affirmative. “I’ll take point, I’ve got the armor for it.” I pulled the shotgun off my back, setting the selector for semi-auto fire. I was pretty sure I’d need it for close-quarters scrapping. I hate it when I’m right.
“Let’s do this”, Barick said. We walked forward, the great gears of the seal already turning to close off the Shatters. Minutes later, as we walked, we heard the massive door close with a great, throaty boom. We all stopped, nearly in unison.
“That’s not ominous at all”, Sila drawled with obvious sarcasm. A few smiles and chuckles met her statement, and I nodded to her in approval.
We moved on, hiking for quite a while. At points, the tunnels grew close, and we noticed what seemed to be scorchmarks on the walls. I’m no miner, but I didn’t think some of those marks were from ore extraction. Ignace stopped momentarily to touch the blackened stone, muttering under his breath about carbon scoring and mineral composition. I may never understand the way the cogboy thinks, but he makes a hell of an asset.
A full two hours into our journey, we finally came to a narrowing in the passage, blocked by a two meter wide door. It was red in color, a barrier of steel and iron standing sentinel to Emperor only knew what. The inscription at the top of the portal read XII, but a more informal name had been burned into the door by some woebegone worker with a cutting torch: “Shattered Hope”. A wheel was set in the center of the door, much like a bulkhead door on a ship.
I motioned Barick to me as Ignace grasped the wheel. The techpriest turned it quickly, swinging it outward, and Barick and I advanced through the opening, shotguns at the ready. It took us only seconds to sweep the corridor, and we saw no targets. “Clear”, we both said in unison.
We stood, and the rest of the team joined us. The inside of the door was marred by claw marks, and the walls and floor were browned by a liberal dousing of dried blood. How it got there, we could only imagine, and I noticed Venus make the sign of the aquila over her chest. The stone here was ragged, sloppy in comparison to the rest of the mine; the lighting seemed to have a ruddy quality to it, as if the very stones should weep blood for the fallen. I shook the thought away, pointing out the branches ahead to the team with my left hand.
Sila pointed to the right hand passage, and we silently agreed to take that pathway first. I rounded the corner with Ignace at my elbow, a las-carbine ready in his hands. My breath caught in my throat as motion drew my eye, the shotgun swiveling, ready to fire. I emptied my lungs in a long silent sigh as I realized I was only targeting a centipede, bright orange and as long as my forearm, but pretty well harmless.
I forced myself to relax, trying to stay loose. We continued our advance, entering a ragged chamber with a shallow pit to one side. We spread out, looking for anything to give us a clue what had happened here. What we found, though, was enough to put a sumphole-cleaner off his lunch.
Sila made a little noise, as if she’d started to scream but held it in check. We all followed her gaze at the pit, and six faces looked coldly, back at us. Six heads, with no bodies or belongings to be found, had been arranged in a semi circle in that pit. All of us made some variant of the aquila, most of us just the half-wing thumb in palm you can do with one hand.
As we were looking, I heard a ragged, wet slosh of a breath behind me. It was nothing anyone on the team had done since I’d met them, and I brought the shotgun up to my shoulder as I pivoted off my back foot. Venus was behind me, and I noted her startled expression as the shotgun’s maw stared into her eyes, but I also noted a disfigured monster behind her and without hesitation, I yelled “Drop!”
Venus complied without thinking, dropping to her left side, heedless of the effect of landing on the hard rock. As soon as I registered her motion, my finger convulsed on the shotgun’s trigger, and I made a mess of the thing’s chest. As it reeled backward, more shots poured into it from my companions, and I didn’t even need to put a second round into it. I offered up a silent thanks to the Emperor, our first contact had gone as well as I could have hoped, everyone meshing like one of Ignace’s machines.
I offered Venus a hand up as I looked down upon the fresh corpse. It was one of the most disgusting things I’d ever seen, and I’ve fought Orks before. A mutant, dressed in the tattered remains of a guard uniform, its face looked like wax brought too close to a kiln. It also had a few extra eyeballs, now dimmed in death.
“What in the name of the Emperor is that?” Sila exclaimed. Her normally pretty face was scrunched into a mask of pure disgust.
“Judging by the clothing and dog tags, I would venture that it is, or rather was, one of the Guardsmen lost here”, Ignace answered.
Barick chimed in, “Wait…how does a guardsman end up looking like...like…that?” Eyes wide, he pointed to the mutant’s face as he stuttered, clearly disturbed as we all were.
“Well, that sounds like a mission objective to me”, I said. Barick looked at me accusingly, and I winked at him with a good humor I didn’t particularly feel. “Let’s keep doing this.”
We moved out again into the main tunnel, relieved to see no movement after the commotion we’d caused putting the big mutant down. Ignace pointed to a door on the left side of the passage, and we moved toward it. I reached a hand out to the wheel and gave it a spin, then a short kick to open it. The door was not impressed, and shrugged off my kick, remaining closed. It wasn’t so much my pride that was hurt as my foot, and Barick moved up to assist as we bounced off the door a few times with our shoulders.
Eventually, the door gave way, and we brought our guns up in unison as our eyes took in the room. It seemed to be a shelter room, a place for miners to retreat to in case of cave-in. Huddled against the far wall, a dirty man whose clothes had been reduced to rags shivered. He was a bit emaciated, and I wondered how long he’d been holed up in here.
“Don’t kill me!” he screamed. He held his hands in front of him defensively, as if to ward off bullets.
I glanced at Venus, and she shook her head slightly, indicating that she detected no warp activity. Barick moved forward, asking the poor man what had happened.
He had little to say, the poor bastard, pretty much answering any question with “I hid here. Guns!”, or some variation of that. I pantomimed a head shot to Barick, but he shook his head firmly.
“I’m going to take him out of here,” Barick said. We waited silently in the little room while Barick carried the small man bodily to the doorway, instructing him to meet us at the Seal. I had a bad feeling about it, but let it go. I am much more likely than Barick to solve a problem with bullets, but still, I worried that the miner should be given the Emperor’s Mercy.
Barick returned to us quickly, and we prepared to get back to business. Nothing could prepare us for the carnage we were about to find.